On the Radar: Brixton, London

In the last decade, however, Brixton has become cool — so cool that many middle-class professionals and arty hipsters wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

This vibrant, multicultural enclave at the heart of South London (Sarf London, to locals) was once seen as a visitor no-go zone, plagued by high crime rates and a reputation for trouble (and riots). In the last decade, however, Brixton has become cool — so cool that many middle-class professionals and arty hipsters wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

Although it remains a little rough and ready, Brixton now has heaps of good places to eat and drink, decent shopping and some of London’s liveliest nightlife. You’ll also find tranquil, leafy spots that dazzle when the sun shines.

Stay

Brixton may have come on leaps and bounds, but comfortable, chic hotels aren’t its forte. Yet. There are excellent transport links into central London, however, via both overland rail and the tube (Brixton is the southern terminus of the Victoria Underground line). A cluster of hotels for all budgets circles Victoria — a seven-minute tube journey from Brixton.

Hugging the station, the Victorian-era four-star Grosvenor Hotel has enjoyed a multimillion-pound refurbishment to its grand interior. The result combines luxe comfort with elegance. Nearby, the Park Plaza Victoria is a stylish contemporary choice (with a spa, fitness centre and cocktail bar), and one of several places in the area with luxury serviced apartments.

Eat

Breakfast: While Brixton’s greasy-spoon cafes are great for traditional English fry-ups, a fine place to kick off the day is Federation Coffee. Kiwi run, the Fed serves a range of sweet and savoury treats (110 at last count), plus espresso and filter-based caffeine hits from Brazil, Ethiopia, El Salvador and Indonesia. Loyal patrons claim the coffee is London’s best.

Lunch: The Fed is part of Brixton Village, a previously run-down shopping arcade, now a thriving market and the site of Brixton’s hottest dining quarters. There’s no shortage of cosmopolitan restaurants here, including KaoSarn (Thai), Mama Lan (Chinese), Elephant (Pakistani), El Rancho de Lalo (Colombian), Casa Sibilla (Italian) and Honest Burgers, which offers some of Britain’s juiciest hamburgers.

Dinner: Jerk chicken joints dot Brixton. There’s a large West Indian community here, and Veranda offers an upmarket take on the Caribbean genre, plus some fine cocktails. Lisboa Grill is renowned for its authentic Portuguese dishes, Boqueria for tapas, Fujiyama for Japanese and the White Horse for homemade pub grub including Sunday roasts. Come weekends, house DJs pump out tunes till 3am at this shabby-chic 18th-century inn.

Shop

Brixton Village Market is a great place for browsing, with a funky blend of creative boutiques and a maze of down-to-earth stalls selling everything from fruit and veg to wigs, with a soundtrack of cheeky Sarf London banter. Don’t miss Electric Avenue, a lively stretch that inspired Eddy Grant’s catchy 1982 tune.

Complementing the daily goings-on, Brixton has themed weekend markets. Every third Saturday of the month a retro and vintage fair flaunts an eclectic mix of stalls laden with antiques, curiosities and second-hand clothes, while every Sunday a farmers market sells fresh ready-to-eat snacks, artisan cakes, breads and jams.

Experience

Brixton’s bucolic Brockwell Park is idyllic on a warm summer’s day. A favourite of pop singer Adele, this pleasant green lung has duck ponds, a beautiful walled garden, the Lido (an open-air swimming pool) and sweeping views of London’s skyline, featuring the spanking-new Shard.

On light, balmy evenings, the square in front of the Ritzy Picturehouse, a Brixton icon and one of Britain’s first cinemas, is made for alfresco drinking and the best people-watching you can find.

Brixton is a vibrant centre for nightlife, from clubs to live performances. For gigs, check the listings at Brixton’s legendary O2 Academy, where Madonna, Bob Dylan and Brixton-born David Bowie have performed. Plan B is another superb live music venue, while the Brick Box is a creperie, trendy bar and arts and theatre hub.

Local Currency

The Brixton Pound is an offbeat alternative to sterling. Designed to support independent local shops and traders, it works alongside (but doesn’t replace) Britain’s official currency. You can get it from several Brixton outlets, including Rosie’s Deli Cafe.

Words by Steve McKenna - Published in Voyeur August 2012
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 8 million
Area 1,572 km²
Time Zone GMT 0
Languages English (official)
Currency Pound (£GBP)
Electricity 230V with 50Hz frequency. 240V may also be found although 230V is the official voltage
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